« Posts tagged mental focus

Something to work on.


I’ve mentioned before about always having something to work on in Kendo and how much I feel like I’m not getting anywhere when I don’t have something to work on. As usual, just when I think I’m not getting anywhere, I suddenly realise that I’m doing something wrong. It also helps that having to take a fair few sessions in the dojo along with teaching the new comers, I’ve gained some extra insight into what I’m doing wrong. It’s not until you tell someone how to do something and then have to demonstrate it that you have to do it absolutely right.

This time its something really simple.

During training recently I fixed part of my kote strike. Probably due to the fact that I’ve been extra careful not to snap the action of my right elbow and thus further aggravate my tennis elbow, I’ve not been striking as effectively as I should. So in order to fix this, there was just a very simple thing I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t pushing my left hand forward at the moment of the strike. This is probably where the injury came from in the first place as I was compensating for the lack of left hand push with too much right arm.

So I fixed it for my kote hit and then I realised I was doing the same thing for my men cut. It’s funny how something I’ve been doing one way for so long suddenly feels much better for a small change. My shinai isn’t clacking on the men as much and I can strike from further away. Everything feels all round better.

Now once again I had another incident which fixed something. While doing a simple dou exercise, I began to demonstrate how to do a duo cut properly to someone and in doing so, I completely cleaned up my own to a very simple way of doing it, which worked every time with much less effort.
I’ve watch so many people get into the habit, and I’m guilty of this too, of swinging into the duo cut from way out to the side. This only seems necessary if the target area is not completely open. In that case, it’s not open. The beauty of a good dou cut is when it is performed with exactly the right timing when it is fully open. Dare I mention our shihan’s superb kaieshi-dou or nuki-dou. Its not just that it’s quick, it’s the sheer perfect timing. I’m reminded of a saying from Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
I digress.

I now have even more to work on as I recently took and failed my Nidan for the second time.
Unlike last time I thought I had done okay, but to be honest about this, I thought I had scrapped it and done only okay. And that is why did not pass. The feedback I had from Salmon Sensei and Hideyama Sensei was a extremely useful though. And based on what happened last time, I think the feedback was an improvement on last time.

So now I have some specifics to work on, not just in my Kendo but in life. I’ve become to up tight and not relaxed about everything. I get wound up easily by small things. This is fairly big for me to admit it, but I’ve lost my cool.
It’s making my cuts too tense and stiff in the upper body, not fluid enough. Secondly, I’m not fit enough and this is making my cuts come not from my feet but from my upper body. It echo’s what my Sensei has been telling for a while, that I keep putting my left heel on the floor and routing myself too much.
No wonder I didn’t pass.

This is not a negative thing though. It’s positive. I’ve got some very specific details of something to improve. It’s not that my cuts are wrong, their just not performed in the correct way. Contradiction in terms? I don’t think so.

So it’s time to fix things in a serious way. This isn’t just my kote strike is a little off, or my foot work is a little iffy.
This is like a serious milestone. It’s not a grade milestone, or an age milestone. It’s me realising that I either train this kendo lark properly or I pack up now and not bother.
Is it just like reading the paper or am I serious about the lifelong commitment to it?
Am I happy to just cruise along? Do I really think I trained enough to pass? Well if I’m going to be brutally honest with myself, what I did was perform the best kendo I could perform for my grading. My not passing shows that I have not trained my kendo to be good enough to earn that grade. It’s an important distinction for me as it peans I pushed myself to the absolute limit that I could go to with the training I have done. As such, I do not feel disappointed.

I originally told myself I would not try and grade again until I felt ready but I now think that is a stupid thing to do. Why not grade again as soon as possible. I think I learn just as much from grading and from the feedback as from a whole week in the dojo. This time I’m not approaching it thinking that I want to pass, I want the panel to tell me what I need to improve.

And just to finish off, I want to thank all the Sensei who ran and took part in the Watchet Seminar this year. It was a superb weekend that I gained a lot of extra insight and titbits to take back to my dojo with me. I also made a few new friends in the kendo community. I look forward to training with them again another time.





The body echoes the mind. Mental strength and the power of excuses.

According to many eastern philosophy’s, the mind and the body are closely linked. The body echoes the mind. I’ve often wondered about the power of mind over matter, magickal theory (I’ve dabbled) and how much control, besides the physical movement of your body, your mind has over external things. I also have been contemplating the connection between injury and illness with the mind. I have seen many an occurrence of someone focusing on an injury or illness to the point of making it worse.

People are so preoccupied with making excuses as to why they cannot do things. The simple reason is that people are frightened of failure, they think it makes them weak. They maintain this front of being strong and then making an excuse of why they cannot exercise that strength. This is true weakness.
Facing anything with complete conviction, making no excuses, attempting to overcome ones perceived problems and still failing is true strength.
You cannot know success until you have known failure. Failure is not a negative thing, it is the enabler of learning, understanding and the path to success.

There is a tendency amongst most people to focus on negativity. Events occur as they will, but the mind will generate the negativity of that event. It is simply how you approach things. If during a bout of jigeko, I attempt a technique and it is a failure, I try never to look on that as something negative. I could say “That didn’t work. I’m no good at that technique.” Or I could say, “That didn’t work. What can I change to make it work.” I always assume a failure is my own understanding not being up to scratch yet and something I can improve. Telling yourself that you should have been able to do it is lying to yourself.

This leads naturally to the conclusion that if mind echoes the body and body echoes the mind and in a state of mushin, your mind echoes the mind of your opponent, then also your body will echo the body of your opponent, thus you will feel their intentions and an instinctive counter will be obvious.
This is the nature of debana waza.

Last week I went to training feeling decidedly not 100% but had decided it would not hold me back and as a result, had a very good session. My upset stomach was something that I had to control and overcome. As such by the time we had finished, I’d completely forgotten about it.

It’s like the mental process of how you view pain. Pain is an indicator that something is going on and differentiating between something serious and just tension or tiredness is something I think you develop over time while training.
It leads to mental strength and that is the core of where these excuses and strength to continue come from. I think having children gives you a lot more mental strength than you expect. Dealing with sleep deprivation is probably the first parental challenge. Being able to still get up, look after your child and do day to day stuff, go work after all night in a hospital room on about an hours sleep is just par for the course. True story.
Grossed out by vomit and other bodily excretions? You won’t be after about a month. Children are also very good at making you less attached to your possessions.

During my time fencing, I went up against a guy at a couple of competitions who was in his late 60’s and had Parkinson’s. He was without a doubt one of the best fencers I came up against and he turned up to the piste, with a limp and shaking violently. As soon as he came to en-guarde the shaking stopped and I scored not a single point against him. His movements were extremely small and I never even saw or felt where he hit me.
I’ve always held him in my mind as a perfect example of someone who didn’t let themselves be held back and didn’t make excuses for failure. A prime example of how to overcome challenges.

And if you want another example of someone who doesn’t make excuses…

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Giving it all away and the path to being a Jedi. (The Purge Part 4)

Take this piece of musing any way you care to but I always been of the belief that no matter where a piece of information, or advice comes from it can still have meanings. It comes back to my belief in learning the truth for yourself. Regardless of the source, things can effect you fundamentally. I’ve always been struck on the part of Return of the Jedi, where Luke goes to see Yoda for the last time and during their conversation, Yoda tells him that his not a Jedi yet and must face Vader again. Only then will he be a Jedi. Why?

Luke’s path in Star Wars is pretty hard. The emotional impact of it is downplayed a lot, but if you sit back and explain it in simple terms, it’s pretty awful. He lives on a remote planet with his Uncle and Aunt, who probably aren’t, they are really his adoptive parents and he has never known his real parents. Then out of the blue, he finds a message that he thinks is for someone he knows, goes to see him and then officers of the oppressive police state in which he lives, murder his adoptive parents and burn his home to the ground. I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little pissed off about that and Luke seems to handle this pretty well.
Next he’s dragged into a civil war, see’s his mentor die, his childhood friend die, makes a few new ones, finds his long lost sister, trains in a weird jungle, gets his hand cut off by his own father and then has to go back, face his father again and the evil ruler of the galaxy probably to die. Phew, tough break dude.

So what does this really mean, and why is it that Luke is not a Jedi till he faces Vader again? It’s his last major piece of mental and emotional baggage that he has to shift in order to be at peace in his mind. It is also an act of sutimei. Giving himself up, completely and freely without fear to perform the perfect cut. That is why he freely walks into the Imperial camp and surrenders himself to them. He has to go face him to finally be free of everything. He’s lost all his material possessions and everyone that was there during his childhood so he has nothing left except the knowledge that maybe, he can save his father from the dark side and his sister. Why do you think he tells Leia that she is his sister? Because he has to do it to release the mental baggage. I also see it in a kind of old world feel like Luke has to become the head of the family and can no longer just follow. He has to lead and thus an actual power struggle between father and son has to take place.
He gives everything to do this and knows that he will either live or die but has accepted that. It is sutimei. The ultimate goal of the rebellion is to crush the empire. Luke’s primary goal is simple. He just wants to try and save his father because without doing this he will never be complete and will not be a Jedi.

I’ve tried to understand this in many ways, but I think it makes sense to everyone. Most of us have some issues with our family and all have those little pieces of baggage that we’d rather we were free of but we push them to one side in order to not have to deal with them and ignore them as just, oh it’s family. You don’t have to consider yourself the head of a family, but with the death of my own Father I feel like I have now taken on that responsibility. I’m the eldest living male of the Beaumont family and as such, have to set an example for my own son to look up to. I can’t do this without facing the internal family issues.

I always equate personal spiritual development to an onion. The outside is dry, cracked and brown. As you peal away the layers, more is revealed that is smoother and fresher than the last. You have to start with the dry, unpleasant layers before the good stuff is reached and you can only peel one layer at a time. The layer you have to peel away is the one that is at the forefront of you mind on a daily basis and as such this can be the burden that obstructs your sense of mushin and fudoshin. When we first started training, our Sensei would simply tell us to leave your worries and baggage at the door. When you are in the Dojo you think only of Kendo.
I think everyone should do this all the time. It’s a state of mind that you can take outside the Dojo and cultivate it there as well.
I know I still have many onion layers to peel before it no longer gets in the way and I feel like my physical development in kendo is much more like a giant wall of pigeon holes which some are already filled. As I learn more the holes are filled more and more, but I know this is an infinite area so concentrating on one a lot more will aid them to be filled better.

I’m not saying you have to become a Jedi, but the personal development messages contained therein are still messages that have a meaning for the real world. If you are a christian, do you look at bible stories and think, that was an amazing thing that really happened or do you look at them as a story with a message? A message that should be easy to understand and apply to your own life.

As part of The Purge, not only have I been trying reconcile all those emotional and mental blocks, i’m trying to sell off as much as possible so I can recoup some money and make space, I’ve also started to give some things away. It’s a really nice thing to just pass something on to someone who wants and will make use of something that has just sat around and done nothing.
Not only that but I am looking a little deeper and trying to purge those mental blocks, the things that cause a little bit of guilt, the unresolved issues that creep up on you at 2 in the morning when you can’t sleep.

Meeting up with one of my friends who I’ve not seen for some time really helped me get some perspective on a few things. I always used to feel that when I met up with people I hadn’t see for some time, I felt like they had been doing loads in the mean time and I was kind of standing still. This is typical for those of us that just have fairly secure 9-5 jobs with not much variation. You settle into your life, doing the day to day stuff. I realised that for me this is no longer the case and the funny thing is that as soon as we started talking, I was almost looking for a way to give him something of mine.

I feel like it’s all starting to come together now. Not only am I unburdening myself of material possessions, I’m purging those mental blocks and now I find my thoughts drifting more and more to my physical well being. Eating a bit healthier, not drinking alcohol and just being more aware of that aspect on things. Kendo is part of it but I feel like it’s all leading to that first part of the purpose.

To mold the mind and body.



Pink Floyd and Eureka moments.


Dark side of the moon is a superb album. About 3 years ago I could not have said that as I really didn’t have an opinion on it either way. I would hear people go on about how amazing it is and had no basis to go on. I’d heard it many times, just not taken it in and felt bad about this because being a guitarist, I thought I should like it. Then one evening, while at home by myself doing the ironing, Radio 1 played the whole album from start to finish. Then I was sold. Pink Floyd are great and Dark side of the moon is an amazing album.
I couldn’t quite understand how I’d missed out on this for so long but I quickly came to the conclusion that I had not been ready for it. I think this is the way certain fundamental things in life happen as well. Someone can ply you with advice on all sorts of things, but if you are not ready to understand or accept, it will pass you by. I realised tonight that kendo is exactly the same. You have to be ready to understand a certain aspect and until that time no matter how many times you hear it and try it, the true understanding of the concept will elude you.

During jigeko tonight, while in tsuba-zarei up in jodan, sensei just said “Hit kote from jodan.” I had to ask him to repeat but I got the message, and it suddenly made perfect sense. It was obvious. How could I have not seen this. This is where a good teacher shows their true skill by knowing what the student is ready for. Eureka moment.

We rotate and my next opponent seems to not be susceptible to that technique but I try it a few times anyway. I come close. Then another one hits me.
The concept of mushin crossed my mind and I remembered the words from a translated lecture I’d read on George McCall’s website called PURSUING THE SPIRIT AND MODERN KENDO. It’s in 5 parts and I think it’s a must for every kendoka to read.
He said about during a proper state of mushin you should become like a mirror and the intentions of your opponent will be reflected onto yourself. Suddenly debana made sense and also how to do it correctly. Being a former fencer, the concept of debana is familiar to me as a ‘stop hit’ but it had never really flashed as something I could effectively utilise. As I observed my opponent begin to move to attack me I saw him do it and simply did debana kote, one after the other. Now I think about it, this is employing elements of kata number 6 and number 7 of the Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho. That small debana and/or suriage kote suddenly made much more sense. Eureka moment number 2 for the evening.

I suspect that these eureka moments are a result of my eclectic mentality and methods of learning things. In a previous post I was lamenting the fact that I am a jack of all trades and master of none, but this is probably where my strength lies now. Because I am now focusing my attention towards a specific goal, all these things I have done in the past are starting to join together. I’ve been telling myself recently that I should meditate more to help me cultivate my mushin, but kendo does it too, so I shouldn’t worry so much about it. There is an old saying about meditation. When you get to a certain point, everything is meditation, therefore, everything can bring about or be approached with a state of mushin.

I used to worry about everything, all the time. I was nervous of social situations, didn’t know how to talk to people and constantly had this kind of internal dialogue with myself about what to say next and invariably just sat saying very little. Buddhist philosophy and meditation got me out of that and made me realise how easy life can be if you have this state of mind. It was a personal eureka moment that I had one Saturday afternoon out of nowhere that fundamentally changed my state of mind.

I’ve realised now that like with many things I’ve done over the years, I tend to not start at the beginning of things and try to rush in. I suspect I’ve been a bit like that with kendo too (you’d have to ask my sensei) but I think because I have done so many things that there are certain concepts that I already understand and thus when it comes time for me to understand the new concept in kendo, I already recognise it.
Whenever I want to really understand something I’ve always just read as much as I can, even if I don’t understand it at the time, but find later on down the line, connections are made between the various different bits of information. These are what makes a eureka moment. Most of the time I’m thinking “How did I not see that before?” The answer is simple.
I wasn’t ready to understand.



Contradiction, keiko and efficiency. (The Purge pt3)

So this weeks session consisted mainly of running through the basics of kirikaiesh with 4 of our new members.
As it goes, it was a fairly sedate session, for those of us who’ve been doing it for a while anyway. I’ll have been doing kendo for 2 years in August so I’m still a newbie too but in terms of the club not so much.
During our suburi, we did 100 jogeburi. As it was called out I suddenly felt for my newest dojo mates and remembered the first time I had to do 100 of any suburi. It’s really hard.
These days I don’t even think about doing that. 100 is normal and fairly easy and it’s all down to efficiency of movement.
At one point I had to stop doing kendo for a couple of weeks because I found I couldn’t lift my left arm above shoulder height. I had no idea what was going on or how to sort it. The doctor did little more than give me anti-inflammatory medication and the inevitable physio referral form. The medication did wonders but I skipped the physio. I’ve had physio before for various things and to be honest it’s never really made any difference. What has made a difference is careful examination of what is causing the pain and then how to fix that.
I used to get terrible neck pains, all the time that would drive me to the brink if insanity. Physio did nothing, acupuncture had much better effect but didn’t cure it. Repositioning my monitor and keyboard at work did. Fixed it completely because I carefully examined my physical state and worked it out. I’ve never been exactly in tune with my body and having dodgy eyesight has never helped my hand eye coordination so to actually work something out physically was a big step forward for me.
Coming back to the arm, I realised I was just being too tense and jerking my arm as I was cutting which resulted in pain and weakness. I fixed it by relaxing during suburi and refining my cutting action to the point that it takes nearly zero effort. I was told to do this on many occasions before I properly worked it out, I don’t always catch on quick, but it took me time to properly assimilate the information and work out how to apply that to myself. I am reminded of the Buddhist adage: “You have to find the truth for yourself.” This is true in all things.

So while I was imparting this information about efficiency, something occurred to me. How do the concepts of mushin and Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku fit together? Mushin is about cultivating a state of absence of thought or anticipation. Simply being in the moment and performing the cuts as and when needed. Not thinking about what to do next. They should just happen.
Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku is about concentrating on one thing. This makes perfect sense in terms of a training session. Picking one thing that you want to work on throughout the whole session and during ji-geiko is a superb idea. I distinctly remember one night just concentrating on my seme to great effect.
But to the untrained mind these seem like contradicting things. How can you be of no mind and not thinking when you are concentrating on one thing?

When I first started to meditate, I found it hard to empty my thoughts and not think. You try not to think, then you think about not thinking, then you scold yourself for thinking about not thinking. It’s hard to get the thinking mind to stop. It’s like your reality filter. Everything you see, hear and experience is passed through the mind filter and some sort of conclusion is made. That drink was sweet, the sun is hurting my eyes, the tree is far away. This is unnecessary.
One of the main texts I read on meditation said that in order to cultivate emptiness of thought you have to first be able to focus the mind on one thing. The mind wants to jump all over the place and wants to look at things so you have to give it a focus. It states about picking a point in your nose where you can feel the air moving over it and concentrate on it. Because your breathing is mainly automatic, you should be able to just observe and concentrate on the feeling without thinking about it. Every time the mind drifts, you bring it back to that point.
The more you do this, the more it becomes easier and easier to do, to the point where your mind is no longer making a conclusion about things and becomes quiet. Something we should all try to remember is that the mind is a tool and as such does not have to be switched on all the time. You don’t keep a hammer in your hand while you’re trying to do up a screw. You have to cultivate the simple fact that the mind does a job but the mind is not the be all and end all of who you are. Once you manage to quiet the mind properly, the true experience of life suddenly comes crashing through in much greater detail, colour and texture but you are no longer thinking about it. It simply is, as are you.

So this is where the Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku and mushin come in for me. I feel like Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku is a preparation. A seed to be sown in the psyche before mushin. You don’t have to be constantly concentrating on the one thing. You’ve sown the seed of concentration. Concentration is not the same thing as thinking either it is focusing your attention while drawing no conclusion.

This all links to the efficiency as well. It’s not just efficiency of the body but also of the mind. I primarily focused on the concept of efficiency after reading the following book:
Matrix Warrior by Jake Horsley. Not only is it a wonderful piece of overthinking, but a superb piece of focus on how to cultivate efficiency of body and mind. I picked up my hardback copy in Poundland and it’s £1.50 on Amazon for the hardback. Just buy it. Okay, it’s based on a fictitious world, but that hasn’t stopped most religions.

This is how the third part of The Purge is being built for me. Cultivating efficiency in everything, mind, body and life is extremely important. If your mind is distracted by many different things (thank you internet) then you are not being mentally efficient. Why should your concentration not be constantly focused towards your goals in life? Why distract it with frivolous things for the sake of entertainment? This is the mind doing it’s best to be used, it doesn’t want to let go. It wants to run everything.

Lastly I feel as though I have always fallen foul of doing too many things. I work IT support and in the past have tried my hand at everything. I’ve been a jack of all trades and a master of none in all aspects of my life. This ends now. Outside of work I have in the past, played guitar in a metal band, played solo acoustic gigs, done drawing, sculpting, snowboarding, skateboarding, car modification and customisation, writing (okay, I still do this), prop replica building, electronics, old computer collecting and repairing, theramin building, guitar effects building, DJing, PC gaming, kung fu, fencing, theatrical sword fighting. The list goes on and I have had and still have some of the things that enabled all these things to go on. It’s just a big mess.
I have now vowed not to let this continue any more and focus on much less. If you spread yourself too thin then you get good at nothing. I’m not great at any of those things listed really. I’m better at some that others but in no way would I call myself an expert in any of them. The things I have worked most on are guitar playing (about 25 years), fencing (about 12 years), various computing activities (30 years). I consider myself an expert in certain computing fields, but in no way am I an expert in others. I’ve spread myself too thin.

Too many things, possessions, activities, attachments, are all fuel for the mind to have something to do and take control of you.

Efficiency must be applied to everything and to do this I must purge it all.



Update:  I’ve changed this post a little as I was somewhat confused before about the concept of fudoshin. I have now changed that terminology to the correct one as I don’t wish to confuse anyone or myself. I will explore fudoshin another time.